Monday, January 18, 2021

ponies and stuff

Happy Monday, folks! For those of you in the US, hopefully you're enjoying today's federal holiday celebrating and honoring MLK Jr's birthday. 

This is actually the first year my firm is recognizing the holiday --- just another example of the many many small and nearly imperceptible shifts that have been made this past year. 

it was nice while it lasted, but that luscious grass in charlie's winter turnout finally died back for the season
It's been a pretty quiet week around these parts, to be honest. Charlie got a couple days off after the gymnastics clinic -- which I believe was very welcome haha. He came out feeling reasonably well for our first ride back tho, mid week. 

round bale season is now upon us. look at those sweet starry faces tho <3
And I gotta be honest about something. I've been talking about having sorta "given up" on dressage this past year... Which is sort of true and untrue. 

Basically, I've kinda come to the conclusion that some parts of my approach to riding Charlie on the flat (and particularly with how I tried to manage the contact) were directly contributing to him using himself worse instead of better. Which... Wow is absolutely opposite of my intentions haha. 

the mud isn't too deep yet, at least!
Plus.... We'd kinda fallen into this predictable pattern in our weeknight evening rides in the wintry darkness. Rides would start out well enough but... Well, Charlie's gate sourness is definitely amplified in the darkness. And as the rides progressed, he'd get more and more rushy and tense. 

actually, it's been pretty mild. meaning lots of folks out and about hacking around
As often as not, we'd end the ride feeling frazzled and frustrated, with Charlie straight up relieved to be released from the this special brand of hell.  

oooh our barnyard has new residents too!!
This obviously did not do much for me, either. Like, I love this horse. Spending time with him is often the highlight of my day. He is lovely to ride and has proven over the years to be a fantastic equestrian partner. 

these bebe shetlands are officially weanlings now!
So.... This obviously begs the question: Why on earth are we spending so much time on these rides that neither of us enjoy????

omg i love them
And, of course, there's an equally obvious answer: There is no good reason for that, and therefore we should cease and desist on that flavor of activity immediately. Which, we have haha. 

is there anything in life better than bebe pony noses???
So. I kinda went back to the drawing board. Why is dressage important? For riding in general, and jumping in particular? 

There are naturally a few reasons: the fundamentals of dressage are all about rhythm, balance, impulsion, and adjustability, right? 

so friendly too!
There's more to it, than that, sure. Especially if you're trying to earn some nice scores in front of a judge. But.... we're not doing that right now so.... the keep-it-simple-stupid approach is totally sufficient for us haha. 

definitely enjoying seeing these guys first thing after the long drive
Most of the flaws in my riding style have to do with trying to ride the horse front to back. Which... Eh, doesn't really work on any horse but especially not a horse like Chuck. 

Too much hand and he will get mired down behind your leg. So then you need to kick and flap and nag and nudge and all that to get him moving up... Which just makes him tense and stiff over his topline. In the right circumstances, this is actually the perfect recipe for showing the judge a rein-lame horse. Ahem, cough cough. 

and they're right next to the big daddies too!! two of the farm's three shetland stallions live right next door!
So my solution has been to ditch our typical snaffle bridle entirely. Virtually all of our flat rides are in the hackamore now. The benefits here are twofold: 1) obviously the hackamore removes my ability to micromanage the contact; and 2) the hackamore provides excellent no-muss, no-fuss brakes in the event of Charlie getting rushy about the gate.

TT is my favorite bc he makes the absolute best little whuffling noises <3
The secondary benefit to this will, I know, shock you. But... It turns out when you stop constantly shutting down the front end, you don't need to keep kicking up the hind end too. Suddenly, this habit of nagging with my heels that's plagued me for literally years has.... all but disappeared. 

Rip is obviously pretty special too, considering he's basically the Black Stallion reincarnated
Charlie is given all the literal free rein he needs to carry his own self forward -- and meanwhile I'm able to sorta sit back and ride him a bit like a school horse, working on my own position instead of his. Specifically, working on some of those bio-mechanical fundamentals identified in the equiformance lessons we did with Molly. Hand position, leg position, etc. 

just look at all that hair omg
Basically, these have turned into low key fitness rides. I keep an interval timer app running in my pocket that dings every 2 minutes. At which point maybe we will change direction, or gait, or exercise, or whatever. I practice jump position, double posting, holding my arms up or out to the side.... Seriously all the standard school kid stuff haha. 

We practice basic figures or leg yields* (*ish) or transitions or spirals or whatever, just using that 2min interval timer to kinda keep us moving symmetrically through the gears. 

And ya know, there's been a fascinating outcome haha. Charlie will ALWAYS be a barn- and gate-sour horse. It's a very deeply rooted pressure response. But.... the behavior is far less evident lately. And he no longer feels like he's breathing a sigh of relief when we leave the ring. Instead, we finish our rides feeling relaxed in the warm flush of a good workout. 

Obviously at some point we'll have to fix my issues with trying to ride this horse on the bit in dressage tests haha. But that's a future-Emma problem. For now I'm just enjoying the ride. And I honestly believe Charlie is too -- considering how beautifully he's been jumping lately. 

Anyone else had to kinda go back to the drawing board in your riding lately? Or change things up to get a better outcome? 


  1. I think Charlie and Goose have more than a few things in common with gate sourness, Opinions, etc. so this was a great read for me. Immediately downloading the interval app!

    I've kind of given up riding for now due to Mud, however I was trying to really switch things up before the holidays. Goose gets really pissed when I drill any particular movement or task I'm trying to work on, so remembering to switch it up and add in poles, a cross rail, whatever even while working on flatwork has really helped his brain. With horses like that, I've found that adding something fun that they like while working on something hard that we need to do can help make it more palatable for all parties involved.

    1. ugh mud season... absolutely the worst. and yea, basically whatever it takes to keep the ponies happy at this point is enough to keep me happy!

  2. I've been pretty public re: my own riding front to back issues, and I know how it can be hard to put these words out here. Good on you for sharing and for finding a solution!

    1. ema klugman wrote a great piece for jumper nation a while back about "keeping the main thing, the main thing." it was focused on a different topic, but that mantra i think is super important for most adult ammies to remember in horse riding endeavors!

  3. Oh man, now that Opie is back to full soundness we've started tackling the changes with earnest and basically every single ride is centered on relaxation only. We sneak in a change here and there, but then it's like, IT'S FINE EVERYTHING IS FINE SO CALM AND RELAXED AND HAPPY YAY BREATHING IS GOOD YOU GIANT RAGE MONSTER.

    Often we do not have much success in this department lol but it's getting there!

    1. still so so freakin relieved that Opie is back to doing his thang! and yea, relaxation is so critical -- it seriously feels like nothing important can be achieved with these sensitive little flowers otherwise lol...

  4. Sigh...fields of dream! lol But seriously, I'd have a field of them if I could justify it. :-) Great to hear that taking a step back on the flat and working on fitness has reset/refreshed things for Sir Charles. Winter is a great time to do that sort of thing!

    1. the fields of shetland ponies are basically the best thing in the world LOL! the best part about them at this particular farm is that they're *everywhere* -- there's one big giant herd of shetlands, but other little pockets scattered here and there in seemingly every little nook and cranny. like you just wander around some random corner, and poof -- there's more ponies!

  5. As long as Bridget is mostly mannerly I let things slide and I no longer ride with any sort of a plan or goal. She's so fun and happy these days, a sad feeling to know my previous determination to 'get it right' was shutting her down a little.

    1. ugh yea riding is hard haha. at this moment in time, so long as we're having fun, i'm pretty satisfied. for me right now, having fun still very much involves jumping and going to fun lessons and stuff, so we still have to be schooled for that... but actual pure dressage? eh, nope not interested right now haha!

  6. I've been a real slacker these days. I like what you are doing with Charlie though.

    1. it's actually working really well for us at the moment! maybe down the line i'll be kicking myself for taking this approach, but eh again -- that's a future-emma problem lol!!

  7. Aw I'm glad you guys have come to a compromise that keeps everyone happy and fit on the flat.

    Also plz send bebe shetland in mail to me


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